Gerwyn Price overcame a strong challenge from Mikuru Suzuki to open his title defence at the BoyleSports Grand Slam of Darts in winning style as the 32-player event began in Wolverhampton on Saturday.
Welshman Price claimed his maiden TV title at the Aldersley Leisure Village 12 months ago, and took a 5-3 win over Lakeside Women's Champion Suzuki in one of 16 group matches held on the opening day this time around.
Japanese star Suzuki caused Price some nervous moments by sharing the opening six legs, and responded to a 142 checkout from the reigning champion with a 116 finish of her own before the number five seed claimed victory.
"It was difficult and I didn't perform as well as I can but I'm glad to win and that's the main thing," said Price. "I missed a couple of opportunities but there's more pressure playing against a woman.
"She's a great player and she had a couple of good shots at the right time that kept her in the game. I knew I was going to be in for a tough game but I knew that if I concentrated and hit my doubles that I could win."
Price now plays Robert Thornton in Sunday's Group C second matches, after the former Grand Slam finalist took out a 160 finish before defeating World Youth Champion Dimitri Van den Bergh in a deciding leg.
Like Price, world number two Rob Cross also had to overcome a stern challenge from one of the sport's top female players, eventually claiming a 5-2 win over Lisa Ashton.
"I'm happy to get the win," said Cross, the World Matchplay and European Championship winner in 2019. "It was probably the most nervous I've been; Lisa's a great player and I think she'll relax now and play the best darts she can.
"The crowd got behind her and it was nice, but it was good just to win. I want this title and I want to have a great week."
The high-profile Group E also saw Dave Chisnall take a 5-3 win over Tipton's Jamie Hughes, who responded to his opponent's early 124 finish with a 121 checkout on his way to a 3-2 advantage.
The sixth leg proved key, though, as Hughes missed his chance to lead by two legs and Chisnall stepped in to level before claiming the next two legs to take a key win.
Three-time Grand Slam of Darts winner Michael van Gerwen defied a bout of 'flu to claim a 5-2 win over BDO World Trophy champion Jim Williams, sealing victory with a 145 checkout.
Van Gerwen now meets Adrian Lewis after the two-time World Champion overcame Ross Smith 5-2 in their opener.
Two-time Grand Slam of Darts finalist Gary Anderson saw off debutant Dave Parletti 5-1 in Group D, with the Scot now meeting Irish ace William O'Connor after the World Cup finalist came from 3-2 down to win 5-3 with a 99 average.
James Wade, another player to have reached the final twice in Wolverhampton previously, sealed his 5-2 win over Wesley Harms with a 140 checkout, with Ian White defeating Ireland's Steve Lennon by the same scoreline in the other Group C contest.
Michael Smith and Nathan Aspinall opened the so-called "Group of Death" with impressive victories over Glen Durrant and Martin Schindler respectively at the Aldersley Leisure Village.
Third seed Smith began his challenge in the tough Group H with a 5-3 win over three-time Lakeside Champion Glen Durrant, with the St Helens ace missing double 15 for a nine-dart finish during the contest.
"It's nice to win," said Smith, who averaged almost 100. "I should have won it easier but missed a few doubles, but I stuck in there and dug deep so I'm quite happy."
Aspinall, meanwhile, made an outstanding start by whitewashing Martin Schindler 5-0 in their Group H opener with an average of almost 99 after a 142 checkout in the opening leg set the tone for a dominant performance from the UK Open champion.
Qualifier Ryan Harrington shocked Danny Noppert with a 5-4 victory over the World Series of Darts Finals runner-up on his Grand Slam debut, as the Essex ace made an ideal start in Group F.
"It was very nerve-wracking but I'm ecstatic to beat a player of Danny's quality and get the win," said the 29-year-old. "I think I pressured Danny at the right times and took my opportunity.
"I didn't think I'd hold my nerve but I gave myself the best chance and I'm over the moon. I've got nothing to lose so I can go up there with confidence and I'm just going to focus on my next opponent."
Harrington now plays Peter Wright after the 2017 finalist kicked off his 2019 Grand Slam challenge with a 5-2 win over Welsh debutant Wayne Warren, despite some dodgy doubling whilst using a new set of darts.
Ruthless Daryl Gurney whitewashed Dutchman Richard Veenstra 5-0 to make an ideal start in Group G, restricting the Grand Slam debutant to just one dart at a double.
|97.19||1||5/6||Chisnall ||5:3|| Hughes||95.75||2||3/9|
|91.65||2||5/11||Gurney ||5:0||Veenstra ||75.69||0||0/1|
|98.16||2||5/19||Wright ||5:2||Warren ||88.65||0||2/3|
|94.75||3||5/6||Anderson ||5:1|| Parletti||86.20||1||1/6|
|93.72||3||5/16||Wade ||5:2||Harms ||86.78||0||2/11|